5 Pieces of Outdoor Gear Worth The Investment
Updated: Dec 4, 2022
The cool thing about hiking is that all you really have to do is start walking - you really don't need much to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're planning on visiting lots of parks or hiking long distances, you'll probably want to outfit yourself with some outdoor gear for a comfortable experience. Read on for our recommendations for 5 pieces of gear you'll want to invest in!
Because we like to spend time out in nature all year long - and because Minnesota has some pretty dramatic temperature swings between seasons - it would be easy for us to amass a ton of different gear. We are mindful about what pieces we add to our wardrobes so we can maximize utility, and we'd much rather spend a little more on products that will last for a long time than buy cheap, poor quality items that we'll need to replace quickly. Investing in high quality gear that you will care for, maintain, and repair is a way to engage in ethical, conscious consumption.
There are lots of brands that support this philosophy. Notably, Patagonia was the first certified B-Corp in 2012. B-Corp companies have explicit environmental or social missions and follow "Triple Bottom Line" principles, which means they focus equally on benefitting People and the Planet as well as driving Profit (the main driver for most non-B-Corp companies). In addition to this codified corporate structure, Patagonia has some cool consumer-facing programs that help encourage reuse and repair of gear.
Some other familiar B-Corp companies include Allbirds, Rumpl, and Cotopaxi. You can look up other B-Corps here. Because it takes resources and corporate governance to get and retain B-Corp certification, there are plenty of mission-driven, socially- and environmentally-oriented companies that do not have this designation. Don't treat that as a disqualifier!
We do a lot of shopping at REI, which is not a B-Corp but a Co-Op. This means that REI reinvests its profits into member dividends, benefits like profit-sharing for employees, and non-profits supporting the environment. REI also has repair partnerships and lots of rental options so you can either try out gear or rent for a single use rather than buying (and storing...) something you might not need in the future. Arc'teryx offers a buy-back/trade program where you can sell your gently-used gear. If there aren't any big outdoor brand stores near you, local outfitters will often be able to help you with repairs and rentals too.
Now that we've covered conscious consumption and a little bit about business structure... Here are 5 pieces of gear we recommend you spend a little extra on to make sure your outdoor time is comfortable and fun!
1) GOOD SOCKS
We are #teamwoolsocks all the way, baby. It may seem a little counterintuitive since we associate wool sweaters with keeping us warm in the winter, but wool socks are great for hiking all year long. Wool is wicking and will keep your feet dry whether its hot or cold outside! It's also stink-resistant, which your hiking counterparts will thank you for.
Our favorite wool socks are FITS brand. We like the Light Hiker for every season but winter, and then we'll switch to the Medium Nordic sock for a bit more cushion and warmth. FITS has lots of fun patterns and varying sock heights, but we stick to crew style socks for hiking to protect our ankles inside our boots. Many of the high-quality sock companies offer a quality guarantee - FITS warranties their socks for 2 years. It took me 5 years to blow through my first pair of FITS, and that came only after a lot of skiing, hiking, and general wear. I've never gotten a blister while wearing my FITS either, but part of that is due to our next investment piece...
2) BOOTS THAT FIT
I don't have a brand recommendation for this category because everyone's footwear needs are so different, but for your own enjoyment, spend some extra time getting professionally fitted for a pair of boots. The fastest way to ruin (and probably shorten) an otherwise fun hike is to have sore feet. Hiking boots will protect your feet from the terrain you traverse, and they'll help you step surely to avoid slips and falls. Whether you like a higher ankle or more of a hiking shoe is up to you - and you may like both for different applications. But whatever style or color you choose, just make sure they fit right!
Just look at all the amazing places a good pair of boots can take you (and your little dog too):
You can get professionally fitted at REI or a specialized camping gear/outdoor outfitter. Hiking boots should be "snug everywhere, tight nowhere" - it's a different feeling than your street shoes. Try on boots with the good wool socks you plan to wear while you're hiking to get the most accurate fit, and consider going shopping at the end of the day when your feet might be a little bit swollen. You want your boots to fit you at your "worst" (so to speak), because your feet are probably going to swell up after a several mile hike! This Wirecutter article has a number of other helpful tips - take a read through this before you go shopping!
Buy a good raincoat once, and you'll never need to buy another. Look for windproof, waterproof, and lightweight (you can always layer underneath). In my experience, GORE-TEX is worth the pricetag, and it's used by many different brands as the fabric used in top-of-the-line rain gear. GORE-TEX is the world's most waterproof fabric. It requires a bit of maintenance in the form of a waterproofing treatment in the washing machine every 4-6 months (depending on wear), but with proper care, a GORE-TEX jacket will last for decades.
4) TRACTION CONTROL
Depending on where you live, this may be more or less relevant, but if you are planning on spending time outside in ice and snow, you'll definitely want something to strap on to your boots to give you some extra grip in slippery conditions. We have both light and heavy-duty devices that stretch around our boots. The lighter grip option is helpful for city sidewalks and such, but the more intense version is often what we need for hiking in more rugged terrain or snowier conditions. We like these Yaktrax Diamond Grip cleats (affiliate link) with individual beads that roll and adjust while you're walking.
When it gets super snowy, you'll probably want to switch over to snowshoes! We'll save that for another blog post.
5) HIKING LEASH
In Minnesota, state park visitors are required to have dogs on 6ft or shorter leashes. It's the law. It's really inconsiderate of other park visitors to have your dog off leash - even if your dog has great recall, you never know how someone else or their dog will respond to yours, plus dogs off trail can damage native plants. So for a comfortable hike for you and your pup, we recommend a waist attached leash! This allows your hands to be free for balance or holding snowshoe poles or, you know, carrying stuff.
We love our StuntPuppy Stunt Runner leashes (affiliate link). The bungee allows a little bit of stretch, and the waist belt adjusts to a variety of sizes. When we hike, we usually throw regular leashes in the car in case we stop at a brewery afterwards, so Bert and Ernie are well-equipped for all sorts of outings. For more on how we pack for a day of hiking with the dogs, check out this post.
Let us know - what are your most indispensable pieces of outdoor gear? What do you get the most use out of?